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When Google takes on Apple

Last updated on: November 30, 2016 12:38 IST

Google PixelThe Pixel handset comes with all-round improvement, and with some workable niggles here and there, the handset looks poised to take on the rival Apple iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7, says Himanshu Juneja

Google Pixel

The year 2016 was already going strong for mobile phones as nearly all the flagships joined the party. And just when everybody was expecting things to go as per trend, Google dropped a bomb of sorts with the unveiling of its Pixel handsets (Read Google Pixel review, here).

That Nexus line up would be gone was not a secret, nor was the fact that Google will be coming with more tighter control over its own hardware. It is the inclusion of some exclusive features on the Nougat powered Pixel phones which has set the cat among the pigeons. How the reaction will be from the other Android phone manufacturers, a lot will depend upon the performance of the Pixel phones.

Things do look sunny for Google. The Pixel handset comes with all-round improvement, and with some workable niggles here and there, the handset looks poised to take on the rival Apple iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7.

But will the steep pricing of this year's Google phone prove to be a deterrent, or will the new kid on the block ride on Google's credentials to beat the competition? Let us try and find out.

Design and construction

One glance at the Google Pixel, and there are lots of queries that arise even as one admires the build quality. The space grade aluminium on the unibody handset is soft to touch, and the curved corners give it a benign look. The design looks like Google is playing it safe, and that approach leaves a lot to be desired. HTC's manufacturing has kept things premium though.

The handset measures 5.66 x 2.74 x 0.33 inches, and weighs 143 grams. There is a good bit of bezel thrown in, and the empty spaces without anything like a dual speaker raises the eyebrows. Things do not really improve upon learning that the handset is not carrying IP68 certification.

Samsung has made its name touting the dust and water proofing, and Google's Pixel handset not matching the trend seems very awkward.

Turn the handset over and the surprises do not stop. The rear panel has a glass window on the top one third section. There is the camera, which
is thankfully not protruding, accompanied by the LED and the fingerprint scanner. The glass section refuses the attention to dwindle. Google's phone is designed to match iPhone in the looks department on many fronts, and the glass add-on looks like a move to keep it from getting accused of being a blatant ripoff.

As for the button placements, the top edge sees the trusty old 3.5 mm audio jack, and has antenna lines alongside. The right edge has the textured power button and the volume rocker. The nano SIM card slot is featured on the left edge, while the bottom edge plays host to the USB Type C connector and two speaker grilles, but there is no dual speaker set up here.

On the whole, the handset is a safe bet from Google. They understand that their first phone does not only need to match its iPhone counterpart in terms of pricing, but there should be some parity with the looks as well. Their move has largely worked, and we should see better and uniquely designed Pixel phones from next year onwards.

Display

The display unit on the Pixel is a 5-inch AMOLED panel, and while there is no overkill of QHD display, the full HD 1080 x 1920p screen is still gorgeous to look at. With 441 ppi of pixel density, and good sunlight visibility, the display on the Pixel covers important areas with aplomb.

The colours are punchy without overdoing it, and users can go for the sRGB mode if they desire a more natural tone for their display. Gorilla Glass 4 protection fits the bill nicely. Google has included 'Night Light' option, which is basically the blue light filter which can be used post dusk. The avid readers of ebooks especially will find this useful.

Specifications

Coming with top of the line chipset (Qualcomm Snapdragon 821), the Quadcore CPU comprises of two Kryo cores clocked at 2.15 GHz, and another two Kryo clocked at 1.6 GHz respectively. There is plenty of RAM, 4GB to be precise.

The Adreno 530 GPU should ensure some top notch performance. The base model of the Google Pixel comes with 32 GB of storage space, while there is a 128 GB model available as well.

Connectivity

There were no surprises with the abundance of connectivity features on the Google's flagship handset. There is the Wi-Fi (a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth
(ver 4.2), GPS, and NFC. The LTE enabled handset covers the popular standards at initial glance.

The type-C connector supports USB 3.0 speeds, but the missing FM radio feature was a disappointment. May be, not something a flagship owner will always feel the pinch for, but it could have been handy.

Operating system

The Google Pixel comes running the purest form of Nougat (ver 7.1), and has some enviable exclusive additions thrown in, as they are Google's way to make things interesting.

The Google Assistant is one such feature, and if other manufacturers feel left out, they are justified.

Another such exclusive, the Pixel Launcher is pretty interesting too. The app drawer button is now gone. In a nod to earlier days of Android, Nougat here requires the users to swipe upward to bring out the app drawer.

Once revealed, the Google icons distinguish themselves with a different design as that of the other app icons. Users can avail extra options via 3D touch menu by holding on the icon for a little extra time. There is also the wallpaper cycling feature within the launcher which can be used to spruce up the aesthetics.

A 'G' button on the top is now the substitute for the search bar, which looks like a good way to keep things clean. The app drawer too has a search option included.

The apps have a feature to be 'pinned' allowing the user to lock the phone with only the pinned app running in the foreground.

This feature should come in handy while passing the phone around as the owner can only revert the app via the fingerprint scanner or after punching in the unlock code.

Speaking of the fingerprint scanner, it can also be used to pull down the notifications, and is pretty fast in unlocking the phone.

The Google Assistant is where the real goodies lie.

The virtual assistant has become even more integrated as the contextual search widens its net. Users can not only just ask it to do simpler tasks like reading out a message, or dialing a number or marking an appointment, now the assistant can be asked follow up questions.

The assistant need not be told what context is being used here every single time. This allows the user to dive into the curated results, like asking about the best restaurants, and bringing up menu from the ones nearby, without mentioning the word restaurant again.

Split screen mechanism works nicely, and Google finally has taken cue from Samsung. They also have included quick toggles above the notification shade.

Of course these can be adjusted around. The quick replies from within the notifications are pretty neat as well, allowing for quick replies amid all the chaos.

The Google Now on tap search gets carried over, and so does the left-most screen, which will bring up some curated information based on user's browsing ways and email content.

Overall, Google has raised the bar by quite a few notches, and has left little to no margin for the detractors to complain about the controlling of their own hardware with the Pixel phones.

Performance

One of the areas which will be eagerly followed and watched by even the non Android fans. A Google phone has to be fast, and Pixel does not disappoint. Snapdragon's 821 and ample amount of RAM driving the pure Android experience is seriously an experience.

The app launches in butter smooth ways, and one carries on with operating, switching and exiting them with equal ease. The HD content also zips past by, without any skipping or dropped frame rates either. The phone maintains a smooth streak throughout, giving it an aura which has been held by Apple products since long.

This should provide a huge boost to the confidence levels in prospective buyers.

Camera

Google Pixel

The Pixel comes with a 12 MP rear shooter, along with dual LED flash. It has a phase detected and laser auto focus. The lack of Optical Image Stabilisation was baffling to be honest. Software based shake control sounded like a skimping attempt. The front facing camera is an 8 MP variant.

The flexing of hardware muscle by Google is pretty evident here. Despite the f/2.0 aperture, the camera takes Samsung Galaxy S7 series and the Apple iPhone 7 head on. Users can double click the power key to quickly launch the camera, and while the camera app opens up in a jiffy, the shots are taken quickly as well.

A nine frame buffer along with HDR+ being the default mode, the 1.55µm pixels get down to work to come up with some very well lit and detailed pictures. Colours are saturated, but not overtly done. The overall picture are so good, that keeping HDR+ on starts coming across as an obvious decision. The night time photography is quite impressive as well, with details being kept, while noise not spoiling the final results either. The improvement over the Nexus series is quite substantial.

The front facing camera too performs in an excellent fashion, and the auto HDR+ mode helps greatly here too. The video recordings too are very impressive, whether one is going for the 1080p resolution or the detailed 4K stuff. The details and colour reproduction are going to wow most of the audience, and somehow the software based stabilisation works out the situation to keep things smooth. OIS should have been there, but till the next gen Pixel phones come, Google will scrape through.

Battery

Going with a non-removable Li-Ion 2770 mAh battery, Google may have raised the hackles of people with a not so impressive capacity. But nothing to worry about really, as the handset easily lasts for a day on a single charge.

The display being a non QHD variant definitely played its part. With this, Google finally addresses the battery concerns to a fair extent, as Nexus series never exuded enough confidence.

Charging it, Pixel goes from 0 to 50 per cent in about 30 minutes, whereas a 100 per cent charge will require a little above hour and half.

Verdict

While the handset has a design which may well attract brickbats, it is the lack of water and dust proofing which will really rankle. The missing microSD card slot only will compound the problem. Thankfully, this is where the criticism ends.

The phone has a fantastic software in its pure form, and the smooth working of the device should eventually win over even the harsh critics. The camera is brilliant, while the demons in the battery department have been conquered nicely.

Google has finally come up with a brilliant handset, and after taking the control of the software along with the hardware, this was a much expected result. Last but not the least, the software exclusive feature makes the Pixel handset difficult to be slotted with the other Android flagships.

All this is not going to come cheap though. The handset has been priced at Rs 57,000 and Rs 66,000 for the 32 GB and 64 GB models.

For those who want a pure Google experience, and have money to spend, looking at any other option is a waste of time. Google Pixel phones are the best Android phones currently on offer.

Himanshu Juneja